It was a meeting of minds on an international scale, with savants from across the globe, gathered to exchange views and disseminate knowledge about themes drawn from both Hindu and Christian faiths. The occasion was the International Seminar held at K. J. Somaiya Bharatiya Sanskriti Peetham, on the campus of Somaiya Vidyavihar, Mumbai (India) from the 5th to the 10th October 1997 jointly organized under the auspices of K. J. Somaiya Bharatiya Sanskriti Peetham, Institute of Asian Studies, PIME, Sassari, the Department of Oriental Studies, University of Turin, Italy, and Inter-Religious Monastic Dialogue, Rome.
When the organizers pondered over the theme of the seminar, two world religions naturally and spontaneously leapt to attention, one from the East and the other from the West. Both the religions have for centuries moulded and chiseled the concepts of countless generations leading them to nobler truths and higher paths.
Both these religions - Hinduism and Christianity - in the main, speak the same language of surrender to God's wishes. Arjuna, convinced by Lord Krsna's reasoning, his mind cleared of all doubts and apprehensions says, "I will do as you say", (Bhagavad Gita 18/73), whereas a devout Christian says, "They will be done, not mine". Hinduism with its acceptance of all forms possesses a wealth of philosophic wisdom which makes an individual feel the truth of his creed; it speaks of Santi, of the presence of the Divine in every object on earth and in space, in the Nature, in men and in animals. Thus it sermons, parables and commandments, strives to achieve a similar state of them for they know not what they do', speak out the great virtue of forgiveness, of loving the enemy, blessing them that persecute. It is on such elevated principles that religion rests; and if such principles were followed universally it would be a different plea altogether. People would then live in peace and harmony.
Sensing the great truths that underlie these great religions, which have encapsulated the essential concepts of millennia, we felt justified in juxtaposing them for the enrichment and betterment of mankind.
Religion leads man to sanctity and spirituality. It stands for unity - unity between man and the Divinity and the unity amongst individuals and also unity between Man and Nature. Religion does not stand for division. Every religion is complete in itself; it is the human being who is incomplete. It is he who not only feels proud of his own religion, but is also apprehensive about other religions. If we seek for unity from the bottom of our heart, we should understand each other. To understand others is not only to know the outer world of persons, but it is to look into the inner world. The inner world is the world of spirituality. It is pure, it is the world which is free from all those stains which make pure copper covered with dross or surround the bright flame by smoke.
A spiritual bent of mind is the result of the religious attitude of a person. This religious attitude is partly inherent and partly formed by the environment in which a person grows. The environment in the context of a religions is a mixture of a number of components such as the scriptures of a religion, religious institutions like temple, church and mosque; priests, feasts, fasts and festivals; arts and sculpture.
The environment in itself is always pure. Man is responsible for its understanding of each other, his culture, religious beliefs and practices. He has to be aware that it is only narrow-mindedness which makes a person develop an adverse and negative attitude towards other's religion. Saints from all religions and traditions have contributed towards the uplift of human society and this indisputable fact must be recognized to promote amity and mutual understanding.
To be complacent and satisfied with one's own religion and to consider it as the only perfect religion produces a dangerously negative attitude towards others. This attitude has to be discouraged. Study of religions in juxtaposition will dispel misgivings and discord.
A question may arise in many minds why the teachings of Sankaracarya are emphasized in the theme of the seminar leaving aside the Vedantic Acaryas like Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, and Nimbarkacarya. The diversity in the teachings of these Acaryas has added new dimensions to the foundations of Indian Philosophy. The Advaita Vedanta school of Sankaracarya forms, as it were, a representation of Hindu thought. Sankaracarya's contribution to Hinduism has been enduring and precious; his knowledge and understanding of Hindu Philosophy has been exceptional.
According to the doctrines of Sankaracarya's philosophy, Brahman is Reality and the individual soul is non-different from Brahman. In his opinion, the Reality is only one. All that is, is Brahman. It is one without a second. It is Reality; Existence; Bliss. Sankara states that Brahman is without any attribute and without form.
Similarly, Eckhart says that God is unlike anything and life nothing. He is above being. He is naught. God is being itself, without a second, unchangeable, without quality, without form, neither this nor that.
The concept of Brahman without form and attribute can embrace all that is under the sun. in Brahman, every individual can conceive god in whatever form he desires because Brahman is without form. The concept of Brahman is a secular concept and is adaptable to any concept o0r definition of God, whatever be the religion.
According to Sankaracarya, Isvara is the highest symbol of Brahman. Symbols can vary according to the attitude of individuals but they all point to the Ultimate Reality. The all-comprehensive and secular nature of reality is the unique contribution of sankaracarya. Hence, the seminar concentrates on the cosmology of Sankara.
The theme of the seminar also deals with mysticism. Albert Schweitzer observes, "Rational thinking which is free from assumptions ends in mysticism." Mysticism begins where logic recoils. Intellect and faith are not contradictory as they are projected to be. Spirituality has to fructify in moral values and actions. Moral values firmly established in and strengthened by spiritual values is the first step towards the path of Divinity. The path is not so easy. The Katha Upanisad says, "The wise say that the path is as impassable as a razor's edge, which when sharpened is difficult to tread on. Jesus Christ says, "Straight is the gate and narrow is the way.
The inter-religious dialogue discussed the important issue of conversion. Being a sensitive issue, it put the receptiveness and the openness of minds engaged in the dialogue to test. The concept of religious freedom and conversion were also dealt with in the spirit of tolerance, the distinctive mark of Indian Culture. As one of the philosopher-poets of the East, Narasi Mehta Said, "Whatever the shape, the size, the design, the weight of a gold ornament, it is sheer gold." Similarly, by whatever name we call them, religions are one in essence and they seek to unify men in their eternal pursuit of and quest for the Divine.
The dialogue gave confidence to the organizers and the participants of the seminar the such dialogues are not only viable but also fruitful. The seminar was not a mere intellectual exercise but the formation of a positive attitude towards diverse precepts and practices. It emphasized that the differences should not threaten us nor obstructs our endeavour towards peaceful co-existence. The forthcoming series of dialogues is a reassurance that the sweet not of concord will linger in the atmosphere for the years to come.
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